Posted in The Writer's Life

OFFICE REFLECTIONS (Waiting For the Ringing)

I can reflect back over thirty years sitting in this office, staring out across the parking lot at the traffic whizzing up and down Columbus Avenue, each car coming from someplace and going someplace else.  There was never anything personal or special or memorable about the occupants of those cars, and I’m sure if any one of them happened to glance over at my office, he would have found nothing particularly personal, special or memorable about its occupant either.  Had one’s eyes locked on mine at that precise moment he passed and if I just happened to lock my eyes on his at that same fragment-in-time—well that might have had all the potential of being a Hollywood moment!

But, over a quarter century that never happened.

Looking back, each year, and for that matter, each day of every year was pretty much like all the other days and years.

Across Columbus Avenue there used to be a two acre parcel of vacant tumbleweed-clogged land, endowed with its own special charm and populated with kit-foxes (which are an endangered species, and are a fineable and/or jail-able offence to even accidentally kill), and ground-squirrels, that anyone can kill and often does.  At the far end of the parcel are groves of dense, nameless trees.  Behind them is a stream, a tributary really, of the mighty Killer Kern River, riverso named because of the number of people who lose their life to it every summer, and where, up-river, at its most violently churning part, a sign is posted that reads: Stay Out/Stay Alive  But, alas!  They don’t.  And, they don’t.

In the interest of accuracy let me explain that from my chair you can’t actually see the tributary to the Mighty Killer Kern behind the groves of trees.  But, I know it’s there, just as I know it’s part of its mama, the Mighty Killer Kern, and, where, up-river there is a sign Stay Out/Stay Alive.  I know all that is there, even though I can’t see it from here—and I thought you might like to know it’s there, too—both what’s visible and what’s not.

Also, in the interest of further accuracy, I’ll add that from my chair—and, for that matter—from any chair from any office on this side of Columbus Avenue you can’t see the groves of trees, anymore, except what is allowed to peek from between the second and third of the four apartment buildings, and looking suspiciously like a clump of spinach wedged between teeth.

It all happened about seven months ago.  An enterprising Bakersfield soul, after the mayor cut a ribbon with a humungous pair of scissors, turned his men loose on the field to remove rocks and tumbleweeds, to relocate the kit-foxes and gas the holes of the ground squirrels.  Afterwards, they planted a brand new crop of apartment seeds in threeoffice to apartments 260 neat rows of four and over the months I watched them grow until they were fully ripe and ready to open up and harvest cash for the owner.

Please don’t think I am angry and protesting progress.  I’m just a writer who is trying to find a balance between clinging to the truth of his life while creating fresh and interesting ways to keep his readers awake and moving left-to right across the page.  In the course of doing this, I’d like to say I told the truth as I perceived it—although one piece of mistruth I’m blushing about is that the contractor’s men gassed the ground-squirrels.  I don’t know how they got rid of them, only that they were there in masses before.  I haven’t seen one in the last month.

You may wonder what difference any of this makes anyway: the cars, the fields, the trees, the hidden streams, and the Killer Kern, progress, the apartments and the mystery of the missing ground squirrels.  In the grand theme of life what is any of this but disjointed and uneventful subplot?

Subplot … I wonder myself.  Thirty years.  All subplot!

This—all you patient readers—is what I’ve been leading up to:

old man in chairIn three days I shall—while exhibiting as much drama as I can muster—turn off the lights for the last time.  Bill Cosby did it when his tenure ended.  Mary Tyler Moore did it at the end of hers.  Twenty-million people watched on TV as the room faded to black.

But, I shall be alone, flipping the switch.  And, it’s springtime here in California.  There will be no fade to black, or even gray.  The room will look the same with the switch down as up. 

But, perhaps that’s as it should be.  No high drama.  Just subplot.

So, June 1st I shall be retiring from Allstate Insurance Company (By the way, the gentleman in the picture is not me.  We look much alike, but I do not yet need a cane.)

I was a middle aged man of 43 when I hired on.  Allstate did much of what she promised.

 She provided me with an office that was toasty in the winter and cool in the summer, a sign above the door with Allstate and Jay Squires on it, an internationally recognizable brand, scads of advertising on the national and local level … and a telephone.  I waited for it to ring.  It rarely did.

During my thirty years of waiting for the ringing, I wrote hundreds and hundreds of poems and short stories, the absolute finest of the latter compiled in a collection of short stories under the dubious title THE GREATEST short STORY [-ies] [I’ve ] EVER TOLD (think yellow, he subliminally whispers).  I also wrote a Noah Winter mystery novel, entitled RSVP: An Invitation to an Alchuklesh Massacre.

After thirty years, I know I’m not leaving Mother Allstate a legacy.  Neither has she left one for me.  We part merely as strangers—occupants of cars and offices.  And, in a way, I suppose that is sad. 

But, Saturday I begin a new subplot.  If I have my way, over the years allotted for me, I shall make it a grand subplot on the way to uniting—or reuniting—with its even grander theme.

Author:

My Twitter account identifies me as “a writer, a salesman, an optimist, a dreamer,” and adds: “may the four always cohabit and produce wondrous progeny.” Each of the first two identifies a blood-and-bone human being, living in the real world who works very hard at being honest and caring—but, who is still evolving in these areas. The last two (“optimist” and “dreamer”) are foundational qualities in my life. They keep a fire crackling under me that hopefully fuels the writer … and also the salesman, whose hat each of us is hard-wired to wear. Sandwiched somewhere between writing and selling, I attended college and even tried my hand at selling high school kids on why they should love learning and reading and writing. That was a brief stint. Whether teaching failed me or I it, I don’t know. You’d have to ask the kids—though many might be doddering by now, and some dead. Still, experientially, it is a part of me. I am married, living with my dog, Sirius, in Bakersfield, California, and separately from my wife.

24 thoughts on “OFFICE REFLECTIONS (Waiting For the Ringing)

    1. Hello, my friend. I’m glad you enjoyed reading my post. I’ve certainly enjoyed hanging with you the last couple of years. BTW, as soon as I clear out my book bag your new one is on my list to read!

  1. Jay: You need to get out of that chair. I’m older than you are and I have Hollywood moments all the time. USAToday’s delightful humorist Craig Wilson just retired and gave up the column. Maybe you can take his place–but you can’t write/sound like an old man. Best wishes.

    1. Ha-HA! Marty, you old son of a gun! That’s the whole object–getting out of the chair. If I’d done all the things I knew I needed to to as a salesman to be successful, I’d be retiring now with a tidy nest egg. But, I waited for the phone to ring. On the brighter side, had I spent all my time selling, I wouldn’t have been writing my poems and stories — at least not on Allstate’s time. Thanks for dropping by, Marty!

  2. I think this calls for a toast of the finest champagne, as you mark your departure date from one life and move into a new one, full of creativity and promise. So here’s to you and to your beckoning future. I’ll toast you, however, not with champagne (which I don’t care much for) and in its place a couple of Scotch ‘n’ waters before dinner. (It’s dinnertime here in North Carolina — or informally, it’s suppertime)
    Jean Rodenbough

    1. Welcome back, Jean. I always love it when you stop by — and this time with a toast! I’ll have to look for a third option. Champagne just makes me sneeze (and that’s not a pretty sight)! Once when I was a kid and riding my bike, I inhaled a fly. It stuck in my throat and the taste of it kept oozing back up to my palate. Horrible taste. Well, I thought I had finally forgotten it … until I had my first taste of scotch! My arm is held high, though, clutching my ever-present mug of strong coffee. Here’s to thanking you for your kind wishes for my future.

  3. I left teaching in the public schools after thirty years and it WAS NOT a sad day. It was a celebration. Now, eight years later, I’m still celebrating and getting paid to do what I want and that isn’t teaching in the public schools where teachers are often blamed for everything and not appreciated by many.

    Instead of thinking of this move as a retirement, think of it as starting a new adventure.

    In fact, I’m still busy and active, but now I’m getting up each day eager to do what I want instead of what I have to do to pay the bills.

    It’s great. I love it.

    1. Thanks for the informative comment, Lloyd and your well-wishes. It only took me one year in the public schools before I realized it was not a good fit. Of course that was in the 60s when the kids were falling out of their seats, stoned. I’m glad you are leading a fulfilled life now. Good luck to you. Please stop by and visit me when you have a chance.

  4. This is a beautiful post. Congratulations on giving, dedication to humanity thru Allstate and to readers. I should think there will be much to write about now, out of that chair and into new ones. Blessings on a wonderful life, blessed and offering blessing. And of the ground squirrels? Sad. They haven’t got what you have: hope in a future.

    1. I can always expect the upbeat from you, and delivered in such a sweet fashion, Sarah. Yes, it will be a new chair and I hope to tap out some good stuff while sitting in it. With support like yours it’s difficult not to succeed! Thanks, dear.

    1. Thanks! I remember following you on Twitter. It’s good to know you accepted my invitation to my blog. Oh, yes, I plan on making my retirement a opportunity for growth! Good luck with your venture. I’ll check it out.

  5. I enjoyed reading this. It is full of memories and nostalgia. Present would be meaningless without the past. Right?

    By the way, I was wondering if you could advise me how to get that kind of job.., you know where I get to sit at a desk and write stories and get paid.

    1. Ha! Rajiv, Hi! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m sure there’s a funny answer somewhere. The serious answer is that others who started with the company after I did worked their butts off selling insurance for twenty years and retired younger with more money. I wrote for thirty years instead of selling insurance and retired at 73 with a lot less money … but some stories under my belt. You tell me who is the better off? And, I’m not trying to slant the question. Some days I feel like I was the winner in that area! Good luck to you, though.

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